My Great Chain Maille Adventure, Part One: Making Jump Rings

Well, I finally did it. I started my adventure of learning chain maille.

Those of you who have been reading along with Jewelry Making Daily for a few months (thank you!) know that I’ve resisted chain maille because I’m just too impatient for it. The last time I wrote about my reluctance to attempt chain maille, however, so many of you wrote me with encouragement and suggestions that I felt I simply had to give it a try. And I did!

I got a wonderful lesson on chain maille last weekend with our Make Chain Maille Jewelry! DVD featuring master wire and chain-maille instructor Scott David Plumlee. Scott has taught hundreds of workshops over fifteen years, and watching the video, it’s easy to see why. His calm demeanor is an ideal match for such a delicate jewelry-making technique requiring so much concentration and focus . . . and patience!

Before beginning chain maille or any wire jewelry, straighten your wire. Hold one end with your nondominant hand and hold the other end of the wire in a cloth or bandana in your other hand and pull firmly a few times, straight toward you. This will also make the wire a little more “springy.”

One of the best perks of learning a new jewelry-making technique via DVD is the ability to watch and rewatch the instructor demonstrate, as many times as you want. Having learned a new technique now strictly from watching a DVD on it, let me tell you–that is SO true! I don’t know how many times I hit the rewind button to get a closer look at the subtle movements of his hands so I could mimic them. Plus you see it all from his perspective, so you won’t get flustered trying to flip-flop the image from your eyes through your brain to your hands.

Now that I’ve tried something new, you know me–I have to share! But first things first. After a complete introduction to wire jewelry-making tools and chain-maille supplies, including some of Scott’s own personal tool tips and unique supply ideas, he gets you started off right: making your own jump rings, several ways, in any metal that you like. He demonstrates hand coiling the wire on the mandrel (a knitting needle) and how to use a power screwdriver to do the coiling for you; then you learn how to cut the wire coil into jump rings using wire cutters or a jeweler’s saw.

So it’s up to you; you can hand coil the wire and use the saw, or power coil the wire and use cutters, or hand coil the wire and. . .you get the idea!

Make a Jump Ring Wire Coil: Hand Coiling vs. Power Coiling
Either way you decide to do it, here’s the basic how-to for making your own jump rings.

Using a knitting needle as a mandrel (or piece of pipe for larger rings), bend one end of the wire a few inches to create a “tail” of wire to hold onto the mandrel. Then hold the wire at a 90-degree angle to the mandrel and start wrapping the wire onto it, keeping your coils close together.

If your wire is at less than a 90-degree angle to the mandrel, your coils will overlap, and if your wire is at more than a 90-degree angle, you’ll have gaps in your coils, which will create wonky jump rings. Both are undesired, so be sure keep your wire at a 90-degree angle.

Remember you can also insert your knitting needle in the chuck of a power screwdriver. Let the motor turn the mandrel while you hold the wire between your fingers right next to the knitting needle to keep it in place (at a 90-degree angle) and feed it where you want it to go. The chuck will also hold the wire tail to get you started coiling. This quick method is ideal for impatient crafters like me–plus I love power tools!

When power coiling, be mindful when the end of the wire is coming; it can be sharp and has quite a bit of tension built up in it, which could cause it to whip through your fingers and cut you.

When the wire is all coiled on your mandrel, slide off the coil. You’ve made a spring! Now to turn that spring into jump rings. . . .

Cutting Jump Rings: Wire Cutters vs. Jeweler’s Saw
You can cut your wire coil into jump rings in two ways, too.

Using side or flush cutters: Start by cutting the jump rings, one at a time. Because the cutter’s blades are concave on one side, cutting will create a small pointed bur or convex end on the wire, which prevents jump rings from closing snugly. Scott shows what I call the flip-and-snip method for removing that pointed end: Flip your cutter over and snip off that sharp bur, then flip the cutters back over to create a jump ring with a straight cut on each end, and repeat! You’ll end up with a pile of proper jump rings (and some tiny sharp burs–be sure to save those and recycle if they’re precious metal!). You can also use double flush cutters if you have them, which will save the flip-and-snips and create flush cuts on both ends of your wire.


Using a jeweler’s saw: Unstring the blade from the saw and slip your coil onto the blade. Then restring/tighten the blade in the saw and hold the handle of the saw against you with the blade facing up and hold the coil between your fingers also facing up. Scott slides the coil back and forth over the blade (sort of at an angle to cut one ring at a time), cutting each jump ring from the inside out. Don’t go too fast or you might cut your fingers! Scott also notes that this method creates lots of metal dust that you shouldn’t breathe, so consider having a vacuum on hand to clear the air.

Tumble your new jump rings with a silver flower (instead of steel shot so you don’t have to fish through all those pieces to find your jump rings), water, and some soap to remove raw edges.

Now you’re ready to make chain-maille jewelry greatness! Scott demonstrates how to assemble the rings into single-, double-, and Byzantine-chain maille weaves–and then how to take those fundamental chain-making techniques and embellish them with beads to create bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. (Watch for more on that aspect of my chain-maille adventure in coming weeks!)

I used to think it would be hard for me to learn a new technique completely from scratch by watching it on a DVD, but having tried it, I’m all for the idea of watch-and-learn jewelry-making DVDs. It totally worked for me. I know you’ll enjoy it as much as I did, so hurry on over to the Jewelry Making Daily Shop and grab your copy of Scott David Plumlee’s Make Chain Maille Jewelry! for yourself, asap! (Now to work on my lack of patience. . . .)



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